The Countess Reviews
The Countess, directed and acted in the title role by Julie Delpy, depict the events that occurred during Countess Erzbert Bathory's life through the voice-over of Istvan Thurzo. The Countess is shown as a cruel murderess who gets killed lots of young, virgin girls in order to bath in their blood, believing that doing so retains her beauty. However, the ending leaves us wondering whether this could have been true or it's a fabricated part of the history.
There's also a certain peculiarity to the story's construction. The Countess would posit Bathory as a tragic figure, misunderstood and condemned despite whatever crimes she may or may not have committed. That doesn't change the fact, however, that the movie still depicts her committing these awful crimes in cold blood. It uses Daniel Bruhl as a reliable narrator, informing the audience that what they see may not necessarily be true, but as if there was no way to get financing without showing Bathory REALLY killin' those virgins, it besmirches its own stance and paints a pretty picture of an insane woman anyway. It's like the scene in Marie Antoinette where Kirsten Dunst is seen as a black-clad Bizarro Antoinette, giggling manically and saying "let them eat cake!" only here it's the entire movie and not done for laughs.
Where The Countess does shine is Delpy's obvious gift for visual language. The script may render her redundant more often than it should, and the cheapness of the sets threatens to trivialize it, but there's no denying that she knows her way around a camera. We learn so much from the way Delpy compares her hands with those of her young paramour's, or the flash of revelation that befalls her after striking a servant girl with a brush and getting blood on her face. I truly feel that Delpy did not trust her audience in making this film, because things like this could easily acted as substitutes for the words words words that Delpy's awful screenplay heaps upon us.
Some might say that Delpy is a vain filmmaker, as she's been the star, writer and occasionally composer of all the movies she's directed thus far. I think of her more as a woman thoroughly and utterly committed to the craft. What we have here is an astronomical failure of a talented artist, and talented artists have no shortage of failures. The scary part of it is that it befell her so early in her directing career. Maybe this one will get swept under the rug and she'll correct herself after this misstep, but frankly, there's not much to justify The Countess in its own right.
With the talky "The Countess," Julie Delpy does not show the same ability for historical dramas, what with the panoply of accents, that she has shown for detailing the emotional perils of the modern age in her other films. But she does pull off a neat narrative trick here by documenting how unreliable a narrator can be, especially from a second hand source, thus letting the viewer make up his mind as to what really happened, just as all the characters have already made up their minds beforehand. At the same time, we get to see how certain myths came into existence like vampires and Snow White.
The worst part is certainly the fact that the story is inexistent. There is no consistent point of view, no surprise, the potential for epics and mystery is totally wasted. It often seems like the film has been partially butchered by the editors. The secondary characters totally lack any form of interest and the countess alone has been granted a layered personality with shades and contradiction, the rest is depthless. Finally the film takes itself way too seriously and is devoid of fun and humor. Sad.